Leaders in Nursing Education: Dr. Carolyn Yucha, Dean of UNLV's School of Nursing
Sep 1, 2015 by Thasin Jaigirdar
Dr. Carolyn Yucha serves as Dean of the UNLV nursing program. Under her guidance, the School of Nursing offers educational programs for the basic BSN degree, MSN degrees with Nurse Practitioner and Education tracks, a Ph.D. in Nursing, and a Doctor of Nursing practice degree.
Her research focuses on physiological stress reactions. She has expertise in stress monitoring, using such variables as ambulatory blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, skin conductance, skin temperature, and muscle electrical activity. Currently, she’s exploring ways to reduce stress in nursing students.
Dr. Yucha has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles, six chapters, and a monograph, and she is editor of the scientific peer-reviewed journal Biological Research for Nursing. She is also a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
Can you shed some light into your background as well as how you got interested in nursing in the first place?
When I was in High School, I worked afterschool and on weekends at a State Mental Hospital where I was a nursing assistant. The floor that I worked on had 40 old ladies who were just confused. About half probably had Alzheimer’s disease, but we didn’t call it that back then. Every day seemed the same, day-in and day-out for them. I thought that it wasn’t the right way to provide mental health care. I knew that I wanted to get into nursing to change the care of the mentally ill.
When I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, I realized I was no longer interested in mental health nursing, and was more interested in oncology and cancer. I began to then work at a cancer research hospital.
While working, I started taking classes like cake decorating and flower arranging on the side. One day another nurse with a Master’s Degree in Nursing told it was time to go back to school. I went back to get my masters and eventually started teaching nursing on a temporary basis. I was the fill-in person at a university where people would leave to get works on their Ph.Ds. Eventually everyone had taken their leave and I wasn’t needed anymore. After 4 years of teaching, I realized that that I was a very good teacher and wished to continue. I also knew that if I was going to stay in education, I needed a PhD at some point. So I returned to school full time to earn my PhD in Physiology.
I then moved to Denver where I held my first teaching job with a doctorate. I worked there and received tenure and a few grants before moving to Florida to be an Associate Dean for Research. Once I did that for a few years, I decided that I could be a Dean and started applying for Dean positions. My husband encouraged me along the way.
I eventually found my way into Las Vegas where I believe I have been able to make a big impact because of the large health care needs here.
In your eyes, what are some qualities that make for a great nurse? What are some qualities that make for a great educator?
For a good nurse:
Of course a nurse needs to be knowledgeable, but what determines a good nurse is the right attitude. A good nurse focuses on his/her job and doesn’t bring his/her personal life into the workplace. You cannot go into work frustrated or upset at something and still do a good job taking care of people.
Of course you need to be knowledgeble to take care of the patient, but the one with the right attitude who asks the right questions when he or she needs help is the one who is most successful.
Think about it, all of us, if we are lying on a hospital bed, want a nurse who is knowledgeable, cares, and focuses on us to ensure that we are well cared for.
For a good educator:
To me education is not just about sharing knowledge but about engaging one’s students. There’s an entertainment component to it and being able to read the students' reactions is critical. Are they understanding me? Are they not understanding me?
I used to teach anatomy and physiology, which can be quite complex. I actually acted out certain physiological events to better involve students. Needless to say we did a lot of laughing in the classes where we acted, and by the end students knew what was going on. I felt that it was just a better way to teach the material than to rehash the textbook because we were making classes fun and engaging.
Also it’s important to mimic the behaviors you expect of the students. When they asked a question, I wouldn’t give them a yes or no answer. Instead, I would go through the steps in my mind and share it with them. This helped them to derive the answer themselves the next time. You can’t teach people facts because they get outdated. We need to teach them how to figure things out for themselves.
An educator has to be knowledgeable and also like the content he or she is teaching. To share info on how the human body works is a lot of fun for me. That enthusiasm comes through as I am teaching.
Overall, knowing and liking the material, being enthusiastic, having creative ways to share information with students, and being able to read the students’ body language to deetermine if they are getting it or not makes for the best educators.
I have seen that you had presented on the topic of Innovation in Education. In your eyes, what makes innovation so important and how are you working to address it at UNLV?
The current generation of nurses is growing up in an environment with computers. Years back, faculty members stood in front of the room writing on the blackboard, a tedious practice which is almost unacceptable today. As times evolve, schools have to evolve as well.
For instance, our students know more about finding information on the internet than we do. If we don’t help them use the skills they have, we aren’t doing them a service. There should be a movement to address the new generation with initiatives such as online education and teaching students to tell if the information they find on the internet is factually credible or not. If nursing doesn’t keep up with changes in the environment, we will fall behind very fast in keeping up with patients’ and students’ needs.
At UNLV we provide funds for faculty to attend 1 conference a year. This is because we often tend to get focused on thinking that the way we do it at UNLV is the only way to do things. People are doing marvelous things in education throughout the country. We want to adopt great ideas for ourselves.
We have done some very innovative things. About 8 years ago we started our own simulation center in partnership with another nursing school and a medical school. The pooled resources allowed us to build an enormous simulation center where students can practice their skills, work together as teams and promote inter-professional care. If we were just working by ourselves, we wouldn’t have been able to afford this, the associated staff, and the specialty equipment.
What are some of the biggest challenges as well as the most gratifying parts of being a nursing school dean?
My biggest challenge, and probably every other Dean’s biggest challenge, is finding good faculty. We have such a desperate shortage of nursing school faculty members that are a great fit. For 11 of the 12 years I have been here, I have been searching for new faculty. It’s challenging in Las Vegas because we offer the only PhD program in Nursing in Nevada. Therefore, most of our doctorally prepared faculty have to relocate their families to work here.
One challenge however that many schools face that we don’t is adequate funding. This is because we charge differential tuition on top of our university tuition. Our students pay more because our education costs more (in Nevada it’s 1 faculty member for 8 students in the clinical setting). Most of the money we get from differential tuition goes into our budget. Also, we also tend to save money from the open positions we have nearly every year.
The gratifying part of my job though is the difference I can make in my position. Even though I don’t teach students anymore, I make sure my faculty have the knowledge and tools to be great at their jobs. I love it when a faculty member comes to me and says they want to attend a conference to learn about something and I’m able to financial support their learning. Our faculty are encouraged to try new things in class and, if successful, they publish an article about it. As Dean, I can direct our funds to worthwhile initiatives for our faculty and students.
What has been the most memorable experience in your nursing career?
If I go back to early on in my career, the most memorable thing was going home at the end of the day knowing I made a difference in someone’s life. If I had seen a patient who simply needed someone to sit and talk to, and if I had the time, I just sat there and talked to them about what was on their mind. Through something as simple as that, I was able to make a difference in alleviating someone’s discomfort.
As a Dean, the most memorable parts involve seeing our programs succeed. This simulation center has been open for 6 years is a great success , especially because we have 3 different institutions working collaboratively with each other. It’s not something you see too often.
Do you have any final thoughts regarding the Nursing profession as a whole?
Nursing is phenomenal because there’s so much you can do in the field. If you love little kids, you can work with them, and if you the elderly, you can work with them. If you don’t like the job you can change it and try something different, making nursing a wonderful profession. Plus everything you learn is relevant to yourself too. It’s a wonderful professional and I wouldn’t want to be anything else.